“ Address: Mr. George M J, Manjirikel House, Chithirapuram P.O, Anachal, Idukki District, Post code 685565, Kerala, India „
~Heading for the Hills~
After landing in Kochi and spending the night at the Abad Airport Hotel, our driver came to pick us up and start our Kerala tour. First destination - and the place I most wanted to go - was the hill station of Munnar, a high altitude town surrounded by mountains and tea plantations.
The drive from Kochi to Munnar is a long and winding one and takes about five hours. We were more than glad when our driver pulled up outside the Dreamland Spices Park and told us we'd arrived at our first attraction of the day. We were never too sure where we were going or what we were doing next as Shijo the driver had the sort of English that meant he was happy to answer our questions but generally with answers that belonged to entirely different questions. His favourite topic was definitely the itinerary and most days he told us where we were going several times over and occasionally we actually understood.
~Spices? Meh - whatever~
I can't really say that I was terribly excited about seeing a spice garden because I'd once been dragged through an Ayurvedic medicinal spice garden in Sri Lanka, been bored rigid and then forced to buy lots of things I didn't need and really had no use for. It was a rather skeptical version of me who thus stepped out of the car, but one who was so relieved to get off the bumpy roads that any diversion was welcomed. We were sent from the car with very strict instructions that we were not to ride the elephants "Elephant riding day 3, madame. Elephant bathing, very good, no elephant riding here" We got the message loud and clear. We were not to ride the elephants for two more days.
We entered the park and a chap bounced towards us with a 'menu' of all the options available - spice tour, tree house, elephant ride, camel ride, horse ride etc. Shijo told the guy we would only have the spice tour though I was by then eyeing up the elephants and wishing I could rebel. However since we really had no idea what else needed to be squeezed into the day and what the impact of declaring our independence and grabbing the nellies would be, we went along with the plan after first checking out the toilets - well, it had been a very long drive. I'm happy to say the toilets were spotless 'squatters' but I'm glad I had my packet of tissues in my pocket.
~How do you like your tea? With one elephant or two?~
The spice gardens are laid out along the edge of a tidy little tea plantation and the elephants take tourists for rides through the tea bushes along paths just wide enough for one elephant at a time. There must be a point somewhere out of site where they all turn round and come back again as there's no place they could cross on the path. When we arrived one of the elephants was having a drink and the handler was directing the flow from a hose pipe straight into her trunk. Once she'd had enough the hose turned into her shower. Fortunately the people who would share our tour were off riding one of the elephants so we had plenty of time to stand and watch.
When the people sharing our tour returned we met the guide who was going to show us around. He walked us slowly through the gardens stopping to tell us what each plant was and how it could be used. Some plants were for eating, others for giving flavour and yet more for medicinal purposes.A few were "Ornamental, madam, only for looking". Some were particularly pretty and I did wonder how anyone had ever worked out what illnesses needed which plants. Medicinal plants included an 'insulin' plant, plants for coughs and colds, decongestants and blood thinners.
The culinary spices were perhaps the most interesting. We're used to seeing these things in little packets and not thinking too much about how they grow. Peppers grow on creeping, curling, vine-like plants, cardamoms grow at the base of palm-like bushes, ginger comes as both root and stem and chilies grow like little capsicums. Nutritional plants included coffee, cocoa, various fruit trees and a few vegetable plants but unfortunately most of them were out of season and not too exciting to look at.
~Above the trees~
The park has two tree houses which offer visitors the opportunity to get way up in the air above the trees and look out across the mountainsides and the tea plantations below. I was surprised when my husband shot up the stairs as he hates heights and would usually stay on the ground. I wasn't so surprised when we were at the top and I caught him hugging the tree and looking slightly green before he edged his way back to the staircase and made his way rather gingerly back down the stairs. As I stood at the edge saying "Hey, have a look at that" no reply came and I realized he'd had more than enough. Slightly less risky for the vertigo sufferers was a marvelous long swing that had been tied up to one of the trees.
We went in hunt of the park's shop and on the way we passed a couple of horses and a rather confused looking camel. Yes, India has camels, plenty of them but not up in the mountains and not as far south as Kerala. He looked rather annoyed but then camels never look any other way. The shop was excellent and we filled a bag with lots of spices grown on the site without any pressure to buy or any inflation in the prices. We checked in Munnar later and the prices at the park had been very good. We bought bags of dried red chillies for 10 rupees each (about 13 pence), vanilla pods for just over a pound for a bag with half a dozen or so, packets of cadamoms, turmeric, garam masala and cinnamon bark, peppers, coffee and even jasmine scented soap for my sister. Each time we thought we'd found everything we would find a few more items to add to the basket and the whole lot came to less than £10.
If I'd known what was to follow I would definitely have asked to stay and ride the elephants or even to get a snack before we left. The Dreamland Spices Park was a very gentle way to get into the vibe of Kerala and get our holiday tour kicked off. I recommend it very highly - just keep away from the camel.
It is a wonderful and memorable experience to enjoy the nature at its best..Dreamland is a must visit place if you are planning your trip to Munnar. The high built tree house in the rose wood tree gives you a beautiful view of the high mountains of munnar. Don't forget to enjoy the different variates of spices planted in the garden. Elephant ride through the tea plantation is one of its kind. All the best for the Dream Land!
Park offering tours of the spice gardens and elephant rides.